When I was young I met an ancient man. I do not recall precisely how young I was, and I never learned exactly how old he was, but I knew – there was a vast difference between us.
There was a house across the street and down a few doors that held no interest to me. It wasn't an unfriendly house; there was no snarling dog or even a fence. If my baseball found its way to the yard, there was nothing to fear in retrieving it, but there was no other reason to visit. There were no children, no trees fit for climbing, no pond, no stream, no snakes, nothing.
Until the ancient man appeared: He sat in the front yard, in the summer heat, covered from head to toe, wearing a straw hat and sunglasses. He was a curiosity to my friends and myself briefly, until we remembered our World Series baseball game had been interrupted the night before by someone's dinner. The ancient man, like the house that sheltered him was of no concern.
A few days after the conclusion of the World Series I was left to amuse myself without my friends for a few hours. I might have disowned them briefly for some offense that surely warranted such treatment. I don’t remember for certain. I was playing with a superball, a baseball size ball of hard rubber that bounced incredibly high. I was playing in the street in order to bounce it off the pavement in attempting a new world superball bouncing record. I'm certain I succeeded on several occasions but record of the feat seems to be lost. Eventually, my ball landed in the yard of the ancient invisible man.
When I ran to reclaim it he spoke to me. "How are you?" It startled me because it had never occurred to me he might speak. He barely ever moved. In this startled condition I answered what he did not ask. I said, "I'm Joe". I'm not sure why. Maybe my brain was going too fast, and I anticipated he was going to ask "Who are you?" I don't know, but as soon as I answered I knew my answer was stupid, but I didn't know how to recover and so my stupid answer was all he got. He smiled and laughed.
As I write about it now, I think I could have been insulted by his laughter but at the moment, somehow I knew it was no insult. He was just amused, and maybe in my little mind it seemed like it might have been a long time since he last laughed. I couldn't begrudge him.
In the midst of his chuckling he repeated his original inquiry, though now, a bit more intimately, "Well Joe, how are you?"
"I'm OK" and we chatted. He was interested in my superball. He'd never seen a ball that could bounce so high. I suppose this was new technology to him. We talked about other things but I don't remember what they were.
I never learned his name, but from that day on, if I was playing nearby, I'd wave to him and he'd wave back. Occasionally, I'd visit him. If I caught a snake I'd show him. If I had some new-fangled toy surpassing the wonders of a superball I'd impress him. Sometimes one or more of my friends would accompany me when I visited him, but I was always the most honored guest of the ancient, invisible, nameless man. Sometimes I made him laugh. I usually didn't understand why he laughed, but it pleased me when he did.
I only saw him one summer and part of the next. I never knew the other inhabitants of the house, so I have no idea what became of him. I hadn’t thought of him in years until a friend asked me recently, “How are you?”
© 2016 Joseph E. Fountain